Don't Drink the KoolAidChallenges that demand confrontation

In my previous post, I summarized the narrative that has dominated higher education’s intellectual and policy landscape over the past five years or more. In short, this narrative maintains that North America’s higher education establishment is bloated, inefficient, unaccountable, and incorrigible in the face of the massive, disruptive changes brought on by the information age and our “flat” world–and that disaster born of obsolescence is inevitable. I’m not ready to hit the panic button, but I think the diagnosis is largely accurate and the disease is more acute than many of us are prepared to admit.

Higher educational leadership in our time calls for courage and innovation, honest recognition of our system’s inadequacies and entrenched resistance to change. The bunker mentality will not do. Among a leader’s chief responsibilities is to name reality. I’ll have more to say in my next post about the opportunities awaiting those willing to lead in the face of disruptive changes. Before we go there, however, I invite you to think with me about several aspects of the present narrative and circumstances I believe we must challenge and confront. We can’t afford to drink this Kool-Aid.™

A fallacious and dangerous premise

While data regarding technology output and patent registrations supports the assertion that China and India are on the way to displacing America’s undisputed technological and economic supremacy, the assertion of a cause-and-effect relationship between these phenomena and global leadership is a dubious one. Consider the Former Soviet Union. In the postwar 1950s, it was the Soviet Union that led the space race and the arms race. Did their oppressive, corrupt society prevail while ours faltered because of technological hegemony? Or did we recover technological hegemony because of our more just and free societies? I believe we must resist every vestige of the commodification of higher education. The premise that higher education is intended primarily, if not exclusively, for personal and societal economic advancement is patently antithetical to biblical values and incompatible with our institutional missions. I urge that we repudiate assent or accommodation to commodification at every opportunity.

A poisonous ethic

In a similar vein, the inexorable push toward greater higher education federalization and regulation flows from an underlying ethic of consumerism. There are real abuses and not a few bad actors among higher educational institutions–particularly, though by no means exclusively, within the for-profit and trade/technical education sectors. A caveat emptor mentality toward consumer risk is unlikely to prevail. Additional regulation is a virtual inevitability. Moreover, our institutions are not free of blame. We bear heavy responsibility for our complicity in galloping student debt and we must urgently re-examine our policies and alter our business models in order to prevent students from incurring future ministry- and employment-inhibiting debt burdens. While acknowledging the above abuses, we must vigorously oppose systems of measuring higher education effectiveness primarily or exclusively on the basis of future earnings or student debt. The value of higher education is not to be found in consumerism’s elevated capacity for insatiable consumption.

An insidious threat

A third challenge we are compelled to confront involves matters of conscience. Threats to religious liberty are proliferating in matters ranging from hiring practices, to health care mandates, to sexual preference (i.e., LGBTQ agenda). Will our freedom of conscience be further tested by social and political activists and eroded by judicial activists? Who knows? I am inclined to think it is probably more a question of when than if. Whatever may happen, we dare not fail to think carefully and proactively about what we cannot compromise and what alternate forms our core Bible engagement and Bible-centered leadership endeavors might take if the pathways of biblically orthodox and faithfully Christian formal higher education are obstructed.

An endemic sickness

Fourthly, we must acknowledge that our churches in general and the emerging millennial generation in particular suffer from an endemic ethic that some are calling slacktivism (i.e., sentimentality, superficiality, self-expression) rather than the biblical personal ethic of sacrifice and self-denial. This notion of a cost-less Christianity will either erode enrollment demand at our colleges or, for institutions who cave to this compromise, erode their missional fidelity, spiritual vitality and rigor. You know as well as I do that a cost-less Christianity is really no Christianity at all.

These threats–commodification, consumerism, conscience, and cost-less Christianity–require recognition and confrontation. I plead with you: Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.™

Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …


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